A haven offering support to LGBTQIA+ teenagers and their parents has opened in Masiphumelele.
Community worker Nancy Mutshesi has started a programme to foster an atmosphere of acceptance and empowerment for members of the LGBTQIA+ community.
Following her husband’s death in 2019, Ms Mutshesi started a soup kitchen for residents and provided meals to a school in the community for more than 60 Zimbabwean children. Her latest initiative came about after he son opened up to her about his sexuality.
“As a parent, I knew early on that my son was special. When he told me he was non-binary, I already knew but did not know what it was. I needed to educate myself,” she said.
In her role as a mother Ms Mutshesi felt it was her responsibility to create an environment free of fear for her child. This led her to start the programme at the Masiphumelele Youth Centre.
During Covid-19, the centre was used as a feeding club, and with the assistance of the Care Company, an NPO that delivers home-based care for the elderly, they were able to add containers and build another room using the shell of a garage. This is where the group gets together.
Paint, for both inside and outside the room, along with any floor tiles, is urgently needed though. Ms Mutshesi is looking for furniture and pillows, and she also needs stationery.
She hopes to introduce art classes, invite guest speakers, and organise events very soon.
“For now, we are simply coming together and getting to know one another,” she said.
The Echo visited the centre to meet with some of the children who are part of the programme.
A 16-year-old who identifies as gay said he knew he was gay early on as he enjoyed wearing wigs and skirts. He didn’t have to explicitly tell his mother about his sexuality; she had a sense of it since he spent most of his time with girls.
He said his mother was generally accepting of him being gay, but sometimes, hurtful things slipped out when she had been drinking.
“I try not to let those words affect me too much. I deal with teasing and hurtful comments on a daily basis, especially when I’m just walking down the street. I accept who I am, so people’s opinions don’t bother me,” he said.
He said Ms Mutshesi’s programme made it possible to talk openly about challenges.
“ I also want to help young individuals facing teasing or bullying to develop their self-confidence,” he said.
A 14-year-old who identifies as a lesbian said she hadn’t faced too much bullying or teasing. “I really like coming to the centre because it feels like a safe place. I like that we don’t have to be afraid to show who we are,” she said.
A 17-year-old who identifies as gay said that when he told his parents, his mother had needed time to process everything, but his father was still coming to terms with it.
“This space provides a sense of security for all of us, particularly those still exploring their identities. Some might not have a clear label yet, unsure if they’re strictly gay, lesbian, bisexual, or something else entirely,” he said.
“This environment allows us to openly discuss our personal journeys. Hopefully, others will connect with my story and feel safe,” he said.
Despite never hiding who he is, a 24-year-old who identifies as gay said he had not found it easy to come out to his parents about his sexual orientation.
“My father had a tough time processing it; accepting my truth didn’t come easily. He had certain expectations for me as his son – expectations of having a wife and raising a family. I didn’t fit into the mould he envisioned.”
What helped, he said, was that his father made an effort to educate himself.
“Now we’ve reached a better understanding. He genuinely tries,” he said.
“When faced with negativity, I remind myself that those who are unkind are often lacking in understanding. They’re mocking something they don’t understand.”
The programme, he said, served as a guide for younger members, helping them anticipate challenges and navigate tough situations.
“Even though our community is accepting to a certain extent, it doesn’t always mean we can openly discuss LGBTQIA+ matters with them. That’s why this space is invaluable – it makes us feel loved and welcomed,” he said.
“I would also like to encourage people to educate themselves. Our community includes more than just gays: there’s a spectrum of identities like transgender and pansexual. At the very least, kindness is important – striving to tolerate and understand,” he said.
The group meets at the Masiphumelele Youth Centre three times a week on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays from 4pm to 5.30pm.
For more information, contact Nancy Mutshesi at 081 283 4059.